Christmas and Holiday Parenting Time

December 22, 2019

The holiday season can be a difficult time of year for families with parents who are going through a separation. One of the most challenging issues the courts and families need to deal with is the issue of Christmas and holiday parenting time.

"Parenting Time" - previously called "Access" - is the legal right of the child to spend time with each parent. As with many family matters, parenting time is framed in terms of the right of the child - not the right of the parent. Parenting Time can also be called a "parenting schedule". Children can also have a right to Parenting Time with grandparents or other third parties, but that's a subject for another post.

There are three basic types of Parenting Time:

Reasonable Parenting Time
This is the most flexible arrangement. The parents make their own arrangements without having the specifics outlined in a court order or parenting plan.

Specified Parenting Time
This is Parenting Time which is more clearly defined in a court order. The court order or parenting plan sets out certain times for the child to be able to visit with each parent. The terms can be open‑ended ("every second weekend"), or specific ("every second Tuesday at 6 pm, to be picked up at the Tim Hortons on Kings Road").

Sometimes court orders may have combinations of Reasonable Parenting Time and Specified Parenting Time, such as when regular weekly Parenting Time is left to the parties to decide, but special occasion Parenting Time, like Christmas or other holidays, is specified.

Parenting Time terms can include things like physical visits, emailing, skyping, texting, and telephoning.

There is also Supervised Access, but this type of access is generally ordered in unusual situations where there is some risk to the safety of the child. It's a topic for another post.

Under the Parenting and Support Act, the main principle is the best interests of the child; however, the other guiding principle is the child maximizing time with both parents. As long as there are no safety concerns that might justify limiting Parenting Time or Supervised Access, the general rule is a child should be spending time with both parents - especially over the holidays.

This means parents with Reasonable Parenting Time (which is more flexible) or a combination of Reasonable and Specified Parenting Time (which does not deal with the holiday schedule) will need to come to an agreement on who is spending what day (or part of a day) with which parent. This means taking into account family traditions, the child's individual schedule, travel times, and many other factors.

This is a very simple example of a Christmas schedule. Notice the switch between the two parents happens at 9PM on Christmas Eve. There are many helpful scheduling apps for parents to help them share parenting schedules in real time.

For example, if you have a family with two children and both parents are in Sydney, the solutions may come easily. However, if you have a family with two children and both parents are in Sydney, but the grandparents on one side are in Halifax - Christmas may be complicated by travel time.

If this is the first year things are changing, it may feel as though your Christmas is being uprooted - and Christmas is supposed to be perfect right? The pressure is on to make the holidays “magical” - especially if your child is very young child and may be struggling to understand the changes in the family structure and routine that the separation or divorce has brought on.

The best approach to Christmas Parenting Time is to be reasonable and flexible. Have as much of a co-operative mindset as possible, and one that is keenly focused on the best interests of the child. After all...

"Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree.
In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall."
- Larry Wilde

This post was written by our family lawyer, Danielle MacSween.
If you'd like to contact Danielle, you can reach her at

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Anna Manley

Anna Manley
Anna is the principal lawyer of Manley Law Inc. and is a regular contributor to the Manley Law Blog. She practices in the areas of Real Estate, Privacy/Internet, Corporate, and Wills & Estates

Danielle MacSween

Danielle MacSween
Danielle is an associate lawyer at Manley Law Inc. and is a regular contributor to the Manley Law Blog. She practices in the areas of Family, Immigration, and Labour & Employment

Tj McKeough

Tj McKeough
Tj is an associate lawyer at Manley Law Inc. and is a regular contributor to the Manley Law Blog. He practices in the areas of Litigation, Personal Injury, and Criminal